Good News to the Poor :: Epiphany

Scripture: Luke 4.18
…to proclaim good news to the poor…

Luke 1.52-53
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.

Reflection: Good News to the Poor :: Epiphany
By John Tillman

When Mary sang about filling the hungry with good things, poverty and many other personal tragedies were considered markers of spiritual failure. Faithful Jews would assume that some sin in your life must have occured for you to fall into trouble.

Today we also see poverty as a result of sin. But the God we believe the poor have sinned against is the god of Materialism and the god of Competence. When the pursuit of happiness is enshrined as humanity’s highest good, failing to achieve it is a marker of spiritual or moral poverty.

Whatever the causes of poverty, its outcomes are consistent. Poverty limits access. The poor have little access to good schools, to transportation, to healthcare, to legal aid—the very things they need to break the cycle of poverty.

Christ’s incarnation is about granting access. Access for homeless shepherds. Access for despised Samaritans. Access for excluded foreign immigrants and seekers from other faiths. The Annunciation, the Magnificat, and Christ’s Nazareth sermon all prominently focus on granting access to the poor and the outcast.

It would be easy to read the Magnificat merely as a redistributive command. It is more than that. It would also be easy to infer that Christ is actively cursing or punishing the rich by sending them away. But it is more complex than that.

The hungry aren’t filled with material goods taken from the rich. They are filled with “good things” that will satisfy their hunger. The rich don’t go away empty because Christ is ambivalent toward them or because he is taking punitive action on behalf of the poor.

Like the rich young ruler, the rich who go away empty do so because they came to Jesus clinging to their emptiness and can’t be convinced to give it up. As Christ said, regarding the rich young ruler, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.

Wealthy or not, we must become poor in spirit to receive Christ’s gift of Good News to the Poor. Our manifestation of Christ will be in direct proportion to our acknowledgement of needing him more than we need our comforts, our possessions, our luxuries, or even our daily bread.

Once we are filled with good things, we can now play our part in the Incarnation, passing on what we have been filled with—both physical and spiritual blessings—as a part of the manifestation of Christ.

A Reading
Jesus stood and cried out: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me! Let anyone who believes in me come and drink!” —  John 7:37

– From Christmastide: Prayers for Advent Through Epiphany from The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 34 (Listen – 6:23)
Revelation 20 (Listen – 2:49)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Chronicles 35 (Listen – 5:25) Revelation 21 (Listen – 4:34)
2 Chronicles 36 (Listen – 4:26) Revelation 22 (Listen – 3:59)

The Spirit of the Lord :: Epiphany

Scripture: Luke 4.14
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside.

Isaiah 61.1
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me…

Reflection: The Spirit of the Lord :: Epiphany
By John Tillman

Jesus, in his Nazareth sermon, began with an affirmation that the Spirit of God was on him. This was a radical claim. The Spirit of God had been absent from Israel for generations. Their prophets fell silent and their senses dulled to God’s voice.

It is no wonder that the religious elite sank so deeply into ritual and legalism. They had no power to do anything else. It is no wonder that Nicodemus—Israel’s teacher—is so ignorant of the Spirit when he speaks to Jesus. Who could have taught him?

We are often no less ignorant than Nicodemus and no less addicted to moralism than the Pharisees, but we do so with fewer excuses.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of the Holy Spirit of God to our lives as believers. It is also difficult to understate the time most believers spend developing and refining our connection to the Spirit. Cretan philosopher Epimenides said, and Paul the Apostle agreed, “In him we live and move and have our being,” but if we are living and moving amongst the Spirit of God we seem to often be doing so with senses dulled.

Many people desire the gifts of the Spirit, without recognizing that the Spirit is the gift.

It is through the Holy Spirit that Jesus starts his earthly life in the womb of a virgin girl. It is through the Holy Spirit that he grows and learns. It is through the Holy Spirit that he resists temptation. It is through the Holy Spirit that he healed, taught, cast out demons, and raised the dead. Then he ascends to Heaven to make way for the coming of this same Spirit to his followers, saying that we will “do even greater things than these.”

The growth of Jesus in Mary’s womb symbolizes his growth and gradual manifestation in our lives. Mary lent Jesus DNA, and cells, and tissue—her body knit him together and delivered him into our world. Mary lent his Spirit flesh. Jesus gives our flesh Spirit.

The Holy Spirit, paraklētos, who made Christ’s earthly body, now makes in our individual bodies Christ’s mind and spirit. But more powerfully, we are knit together as a community, The Church. into the physical body of Christ in the world.

We, The Church, are charged as Mary was, to deliver Christ, to manifest him, to the world. The rest of Christ’s sermon at Nazareth will help us see how.

Today the church remembers with sorrow the slaughter of the male infants of Bethlehem. When the world finds it cannot kill Christ, it will often turn to the nearest available victims to dispense its aimless rage. As we manifest Christ to the world, we will find ourselves victimized in his place…”for your sake we are slaughtered…

The Refrain
Remember, Lord, how short life is, how frail you have made all flesh. —  Psalm 89:47

– From Christmastide: Prayers for Advent Through Epiphany from The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 33 (Listen – 4:01)
Revelation 19 (Listen – 3:47)

Unwrapping Christ’s Gifts :: Epiphany

Scripture: Luke 4.20-21
The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Isaiah 9.2
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.

Reflection: Unwrapping Christ’s Gifts :: Epiphany
By John Tillman

The Annunciation of the birth of the King of Kings had come quietly to Mary, a young girl in Nazareth, and when that King’s time had come, he announced his kingdom in the same synagogue he studied in as a young boy. Mary’s son chose to announce his true identity to those who knew him best. He chose to proclaim the presence of the kingdom of God in a town from which true Israelites believed nothing good could come.

It should not surprise us that Jesus chose to make one of his earliest and most direct claims to being the Messiah not in a rabbinical school, not in the temple, not in a court of law, nor in the courts of political power.

Jesus consistently chose to minister in out of the way places to people life had pushed out of the way. But here in Nazareth, Jesus wasn’t burying the lead; he was burying a treasure in a field. Those who studied the prophecies knew that the Messianic ministry would dawn like a light in Galilee. Christ’s seeming retreat from more important locations, is actually a marker of his true nature as the foretold Messiah.

Christ’s gifts to us are at first concealed, like gifts under a Christmas tree. They are hidden in plain sight for us to wonder at, to shake, to puzzle over, and ultimately to open and rejoice over. But, after opening, gifts become a part of you when you accept them. Whether it is a tool that is used regularly, an item of clothing that is worn often, or a book, game, or other entertainment that engages our mind and imagination, good gifts integrate themselves into our lives and identities.

Christ’s gifts are meant to become integral to our lives and to become manifestations of himself to our family, friends, and communities. As we approach Epiphany over the next ten days, may we wear Christ’s gifts prominently, like new and well-loved items of clothing. Through the wearing, may we allow them to transform us into the manifestation of the giver.

Today the church celebrates the life of the Apostle John of whom Jesus said, “If I want him to remain alive until I come, what is that to you?” Though John lived a long life—the only Apostle not to be martyred—he did die. Yet Jesus has left “the disciple Jesus loved” here until his second Advent. He leaves us. His well loved and Holy Spirit equipped disciples, the church.

The Refrain
The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation. —  Psalm 118:14

– From Christmastide: Prayers for Advent Through Epiphany from The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 32 (Listen – 5:58)
Revelation 18 (Listen – 4:48)

Christmas is Upside Down :: Epiphany

Scripture: Isaiah 61.1
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners.

Reflection: Christmas is Upside Down :: Epiphany
By John Tillman

There are a good many things about the way we celebrate Christmas in Western cultures that are upside down from a historical context.

We engage in a fast-paced litany of parties, activities, feasts, and gift giving during Advent, which is traditionally a time of contemplation, of prayer, and of identifying with our brokenness and need for Christ.

The actual 12 days of Christmas, leading to Epiphany should be a season of celebration, feasting, parties, and joyful community—yet our modern culture turns inward, focusing on self-improvement, and moralistic New Year’s resolutions. Many churches even engage in fasts or “cleanses” during this time of year. Many believers are literally fasting when the church historically has always feasted, celebrating the abundance of Christ.

This is not all bad. Historical celebrations of the church have always been keyed to the culture. There is value in seeing a trend of culture (such as the wave of self-improvement that dominates January) and attempting to steer that cultural trend into a valuable spiritual practice, such as fasting, prayer, and reflection. But there is also value in countering the culture—of zigging when they zag.

Epiphany means manifestation and refers to Christ being “revealed” to the entire world—not just Israel. In this season we will examine the Epiphany or the “revealing” of Christ and the implications of the incarnation by studying Christ’s first expository sermon in which he revealed his identity, proclaimed his destiny, and which was also the occasion of the first attempt to violently take his life as an adult.

As Christ and Saint Stephen, whose life and martyrdom the church celebrates today, can tell you, if they try to kill you after your sermon, you probably preached the Gospel. So we will look closely at what Christ said that day in Nazareth and what it means for us.

For Christ’s declaration in Nazareth must echo through each of us. The Spirit of the Lord that was upon him, longs to manifest himself in us. The Spirit that overshadowed Mary and grew Christ within her body, longs to birth Christ to the world through our actions. May we be the Lord’s servant as she was. May we manifest Christ. May we participate in his Epiphany to our world.

The Prayer Appointed for the Week
Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born of a pure virgin: Grant that I, who have been born again and made your child by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through my Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.

– From Christmastide: Prayers for Advent Through Epiphany from The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 31 (Listen – 4:20)
Revelation 17 (Listen – 3:19)

O Holy Night :: Advent’s Peace

On Christmas Eve of 1906 Reginald Fessenden, who had been one of Thomas Edison’s chief chemists, was testing a new generator for radio transmissions. In what became the first broadcast of voice and music over radio, Fessenden read the Christmas story from the gospel of Luke and played the carol “O Holy Night” on his violin. This remarkable entrance into history was not the first, nor the only for this song.

The lyrics to “O Holy Night” came from a French socialist, who penned them for a Catholic service in 1847. The music was written by a Jewish composer. Legend holds that the song brought a 24-hour respite to fighting between French and German troops after being sung from the battlefield on Christmas Eve of 1871. The carol hopped the pond, thanks to the Unitarian minister and abolitionist John Sullivan Dwight, and caught on in the North far more quickly than in the South:

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.

The only thing more astonishing than the journey of one the most beloved Christmas songs is the event which it celebrates:

Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Til He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

How remarkable that in the light of God our soul feels its worth? “God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment.” remarks Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book, God is in the Manger. He continues:

And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.

The hope, love, joy, and peace of Advent broke into our world on the holiest of nights. Songs about Christ have endured, and changed, history—more importantly the good news of Christ changes our present and future.

ListenO Holy Night by Chris Tomlin (1:29).

The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Everyone will stand in awe and declare God’s deeds; they will recognize his works. — Psalm 64.9

– From 
Christmastide: Prayers for Advent Through Epiphany from The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
2 Chronicles 26-27 (Listen – 5:28)
Revelation 13 (Listen – 3:20)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Chronicles 28 (Listen – 4:59) Revelation 14 (Listen – 3:51)
2 Chronicles 29 (Listen – 6:49) Revelation 15 (Listen – 1:29)

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